Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer countdowns

Today is my 2nd day of summer English camp. It's going pretty well. Class sizes are really small which is great, and I love having a different schedule and routine. I'm still teaching English, but its slightly different. I was ready for a break.

In 5 days I'm going to China! I've wanted to go to China ever since I knew I was coming to Korea, so I'm really really excited. Originally it was just me and Alissa going together, but Garrett and Kyla ended up having the same week of vacation so they're coming too. The 4 of us are on our own private tour. We have guides to take us everywhere. The only thing they don't do is travel with us, but they get us to the airport/train station, and the next guide will be waiting for us in the next city. Thank goodness, because I am not ready to navigate another foreign country by myself. Want to know my schedule? Here it is. It is action-packed. This is not going to be a relaxing trip, but it will be amazing.

Day 1: Fly into Beijing
Day 2: Climb the Great Wall! I can't wait. This is one of the 7 wonders of the world - it's going to be awesome. Then visit the Ming Tombs and see dead Chinese emperors. Then eat a fancy peking duck dinner to finish off the day.
Day 3: Visit Tian'anmen Square - the biggest urban square in the world. Sounds pretty cool. Next see the Imperial Palace/Forbidden City, the biggest palace in the world. Then go to the Temple of Heaven, then take a sleeper train to Xian.
Day 4: TERRACOTTA WARRIORS! This and the great wall are the things I'm most excited about. Then we will go to a mountain village to meet some real Chinese people, then we'll go to Big Wild Goose Pagoda. What a name. It's got lots of important Buddhist stuff.
Day 5: Fly to Guilin. Climb Fubo Hill and see Seven Star Park and Reed Flute Cave. Apparently this is the nature day.
Day 6: River cruise down the Li River. Then do some shopping in markets. Then get on a plane again and fly to Beijing.
Day 7: Free day. Finally. Our big plans are seeing the art museum, finding the Bird's Nest (from the Olympics) and finding a panda in a zoo or somewhere else to hold and take pictures with.
Day 8: Fly back to Korea, where my family will be meeting me at the airport :) They'll be in Korea for 10 days. We're going to spend the first 3 in Seoul, then they'll come to Ulsan with me. I only have to work 2 days while they're here, and one day they'll probably come to school with me. I should make them do my job for a day :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weekend Recap

I'm in a typhoon warning right now. I've been in a thunderstorm warning, a tornado warning, but never a typhoon warning. It's SO windy! I looked outside and actually saw birds struggling to fly. And its raining right. But I texted my co-teacher and she said I have nothing to worry about.

Saturday I went to my favorite place in Korea - Busan - with Garrett, Kyla, and Katie to make a Costco run...we were all out of meat and cheese. We spent a little time at the beach before we went shopping. I'm not sure why, but none of us brought our swimming suits. So we walked in the water, but didn't get to swim. Too bad, because it was almost 100 degrees.
This is the beach. Those are all umbrellas. Everybody who goes to the beach rents an umbrella and stays under it unless they are in the water. Almost one million people go to this beach on the weekends, and they all hide from the sun. The picture doesn't do it justice. There are at least 15 rows and they take up the whole beach like a giant grid. It's crazy. 

 Wading in the water

Another fun fact: most Koreans can't swim. It's becoming more popular for parents to put their kids in swimming lessons, but most older Koreans who know how to swim are men who have been in the navy.  So there' s a line of buoys in the ocean about 4 feet deep that you absolutely cannot cross. There are police boats driving up and down that line making sure everybody stays on the safe side. There are also lifeguards. And most of the people in the water - including adults - are wearing a life jacket and using an inner tube. It's the weirdest thing I've ever seen. 

Sunday Katie and I spent the afternoon with a family from church. Honestly, I wasn't excited about it, but it ended up being a lot of fun. This family has 2 daughters, one in 6th grade and one in 3rd. The older daughter lived in Nebraska for a year so she could get really good at English. It worked. The rest of her family doesn't really speak English so she played translator all day, but I think that's what her parents wanted. Katie and I thought we were going out to lunch right after church, but instead we went back to the family's apartment for a few hours. We played Wii with the girls and talked to the parents for a while, then we all went out to eat and they brought us home. It was nice to spend time with a family, in an apartment with more than one room. The parents were very sweet and said they want to do this more often, and this girl speaks English like a native speaker. It was good.

Monday and Tuesday I was at school without Yuri. She took the 6th graders on an overnight camping trip. It was really quiet and lonely without her. Most of the teachers can't speak English or think they can't speak well enough to talk to me - they'd rather translate through Yuri. Tomorrow I go to Jang Saeng Po. The vice principal thinks nobody is working hard enough, so Jenny and I each have to teach some English classes in the morning and work on an English play in the afternoon. I hope its fun!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pizza makes me happy

Today I did not like Korea very much.

Lately I haven't really been doing my hair or makeup because it's so humid. But today I decided to look nice and do both. Then I walked out the door and saw my bus leaving the bus stop. It had come at least 5 minutes early, and I had to stand outside for a long time and wait for a different one, then walk a little way because it didn't take me all the way to school. So my hair was flat and my makeup was gone. Bummer.

Next Yuri told me that she would be teaching our classes alone. It bothers me when she does this because she only speaks Korean, which totally defeats the purpose of English class. Then she told me that next week I have to teach 4 lessons and I can't use the books - I have to create everything. Fine, but annoying because she's probably known about this for a while and waited until the last minute to tell me.

For lunch we had this soup/noodle dish that I really hate. It's basically very long, very thin noodles with some vegetables and broth. And I don't know why, but it always makes me gag. It's not spicy - it's actually pretty bland, but my body does not like it. Plus its tricky to eat because the noodles are so long, and they're slippery because they're in broth, and you have to use your chopsticks. After about 10 minutes my bowl was still very full, and Yuri was completely finished. I have no idea how she got all that food into her stomach.

This afternoon I went to JangSeangPo, and Jenny told me that the vice principal is very crabby this week. I don't talk to her much because her English isn't great, but she's always very sweet and kind, so this is totally out of character for her. She yelled at 2 teachers and told the head teacher that nobody is working hard enough. She made the whole staff stay at work until 10:00 last night. Next week Jenny and I were supposed to come for 3 days and basically have time to plan, which I desperately need. I have to teach classes every day for 5 weeks this summer and I have to create EVERYTHING. This is a ton of work to get done in not a lot of time. Well, vice principal has decided that Jenny and I will each teach classes during those 3 days. She didn't tell us which kids we'll be teaching or what she wants us to do, so this is 3 more days of lessons that I have to create and I literally don't even know where to start. Koreans do things very last minute. I've come to expect it, but this is so much last minute stuff all at the same time and I can't take it right now.

I also couldn't find Sam when I got to school. Normally he's in his office and I go say hi so we know each other is there, and talk about anything that needs to be talked about. He finally showed up for our first class 10 minutes late (which is kind of a big deal when class is only 40 minutes), had to go to a "meeting" during our second class (they use the term meeting so loosely. It can literally mean anything that gets you out of work), and came 10 minutes late to our last class. Then, when that class was over, he kept half the kids in the classroom and lectured them very angrily in Korean for about 10 minutes. I stood there and pretended like I knew what was going on. When the kids left I asked him what that was all about and he said "Nothing." I said "It was obviously something. Tell me what's going on." And again he said "No, it was nothing." This makes me so mad. Those are my students and I have a right to know if they did something wrong. It's not fair that I can't know what's going on in my own classroom.

So basically work is stressful and frustrating right now. Luckily I had fun dinner plans to cheer me up. We knew there was a Domino's in our area because we've seen the delivery scooters. Tonight we finally found it! And it was so exciting, because it was real pizza. In Korea all pizza will have corn, sweet potato, or mayo on it. Sometimes all 3. Those are not normal pizza ingredients. So we were thrilled to eat real pizza and spend time hanging out. We assumed there would be tables and chairs in the restaurant, and we were wrong. So we took our dinner to Ulsan Grand Park.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rain rain go away

It has been pouring all day. Even if I wore my rain boots and umbrella, I would still get wet if I went outside. Days like this make me really miss having a car. So I have been inside all day, catching up on American music, reading, and watching Glee. I am obsessed with Glee! I resisted it for a long time because I thought I would hate it, but I was so wrong. I've watched almost a whole season in about 2 weeks. It's so great. And I'm reading Eat Pray Love. I don't like it as much as I hoped I would, but its good. I love reading about all the places she visited.

Anyways...I'm bored so you're going to get a lot of random thoughts. One day Yuri and I were driving to the bank and she said "Most foreigners come to Korea and lose weight. I think you have not." haha what?! What I heard is "Why are you still a fat American?" I blame it on the amount of white rice they feed me. A few days later Sam and I were sitting in the teachers lounge/snack room and he said "Your makeup looks nice today. Are you going on a blind date tonight?" Again...what?! There have been a few times my co-teachers have asked me if I was going on a date. I have no idea who they think I'm going to date in this country. And they are obviously very observant and aware of my looks.

There's a website for foreign teachers in Korea. We use it to share lesson plan ideas and funny things that happen in our lives and to ask each other for help. I read it when I'm bored at work. Somebody started a post called "Stuff my students said" and this was my favorite one. It didn't happen to me, but it happened to some high school teacher in this country.
Student: Teacher what's wrong?
Teacher: I'm very tired.
Student: Why teacher?
Teacher: Because I had 7 classes today.
Student: I had 9.
I laughed out loud at my desk. This is how hard the students work - sometimes they're busier than their teachers.

The Korean language doesn't really distinguish between the sounds "l" and "r", "f" and "p", and also "d" and "t". This week I was teaching my students the word "got" - like - "I got a present for my birthday" and a few of them thought I was saying "god." That same day we were talking about the past tense and a lot of them thought I was teaching them the fast tense. These are the moments when you need a Korea co-teacher to explain what's going on. Luckily I had one.

In Korean a word will almost never end in a consonant, so they have a really hard time pronouncing English words that do, and they'll add a little sound at the end to make it more Koreanized. So I hear words like this all day:
pinisheee (finished)
My favorite is when they combine these and say: teachaaaaa I pinisheeeee

My students often use the word "my" instead of "I'm" so they'll say things like:
my happy today
my sick
my go home
my good at soccer

Ok, my TV is on, and I just saw a commercial where they combined a Martin Luther King Jr speech with an Obama speech, and they were advertising a phone. Not really sure how that all goes together. But Koreans love Obama. One of my friends has a picture of his student wearing socks with Obama's face on them. How funny is that?! I want some. Also, they run commercials really differently here. Commercial breaks within are literally 1 or 2 commercials. It's awesome. But what's not awesome is that the breaks between shows are 15-20 minutes long, and sometimes they throw those long ones in movies too. There have been times that I've literally forgotten what I was watching because the commercial break was so long.

It's almost summer break! I don't really get a break because I have to teach English camp, but it'll be really nice to have a different routine and schedule for a while. Camp at Sun-am starts in 2 weeks, and on Monday Yuri told me what age kids I'll be teaching and that I had a week to create all my lesson plans and materials. On Friday after lunch Jenny gave me a schedule for camp and said I had to give her an outline of all my lesson plans by the end of the day. I was not thrilled. But...that's the way things are run over here. Planning does not happen very far in advance.

Well this has occupied me for a while, and I'm sure you're bored by now. It's raining less hard now, so maybe in a while I could actually go outside. Hopefully.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011


This weekend I did a lot of things that I wasn't so sure about, but ended up being really fun. For starters: Friday night Mexican potluck. Sounds like a really good idea. But in Korea there are no ingredients for Mexican food. However, my friends are way better cooks than I am, and it turned out awesome. I made chips and salsa, Katie brought a pineapple, Alexis made really great rice, and Mo and Christy made chicken/beef fajitas. Everything was so good, and we had a ton of fun just hanging out together and talking. And bonus - Mo showed me a website where I can watch sports live! So I got to see the Wimbledon finals :)

Earlier this week Yuri told me she wanted to take me to a badminton tournament on Saturday. She invited Katie too because she wanted to meet her. Thank goodness. Because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Badminton is a big deal in Korea. Yuri is a member of a badminton club and she plays every morning at 6:00. My kids can't all speak in complete sentences, but they can all spell the word badminton. Not an easy word. So Yuri picked us up and drove us to the biggest gym in Ulsan. We walked in and there were 20 matches going on. Doubles. The partners wore matching outfits, and crouched in the ready position, and grunted when they hit the birdie. Katie and I were literally the only foreigners in the gym. Sometimes I don't notice how much I stand out, and sometimes I feel totally out of place. I felt totally out of place. But it was fine. The 3 of us sat and watched for a while, then we went outside with some of Yuri's badminton friends and ate pig feet and drank beer. At 2:30 in the afternoon. Pig feet are not very good. The meat was sliced pretty thin, and some of the pieces were mostly meat and some were mostly cartilage. There were a few times I just had to swallow because I couldn't even chew. Then we went back inside and watched some more matches. Katie and I laughed a lot - we ended up having a lot of fun. And its good to spend time with Yuri outside of school. Then I spent the night with these friends. We had the greatest ice cream.

Sunday was our 4th of July celebration! I'm going to tell you through pictures.
 It took FOREVER to light the stupid charcoal. I mean close to an hour. Katie actually melted the lighter in the process. But, eventually we got some flames and roasted marshmallows before we made hot dogs.
 Ok, not a flattering picture of me, but so funny. This is Mo's Korean friend Kyle. He came because he wanted to know what Americans do on the 4th of July. He had never had a roasted marshmallow before. He took one bite and said "What is this taste?!" We all laughed so hard.
 Alissa made a blueberry crumble for dessert. We didn't bring any utensils with us, so we ate it in cups with our fingers.

 The group minus photographer Katie
 Alexis bought us sparklers :)
So about the hot dogs. We put them on the grill, cooked them, and put them in buns. Katie took a bite and said "This is really hard to eat." Then we realized that each individual hot dog was wrapped in plastic. And we had cooked them with the plastic on. So we had to peel the plastic off the very hot hot dogs, and then eat them. What a night. We had SO MUCH FUN! Happy birthday America!